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Why we want food so much it hurts

BBC Future Why we want food so much it hurts


To understand the process of craving and see how it might be interrupted, Kemps and her colleague Marika Tiggemann have studied exactly what it feels like. They asked 130 subjects to recall a craving they'd had and write down a description, collecting what amounted to lyrical rhapsodies about the object of desire. They found that people don't think about sound or touch all that much in cravings, with visual images playing a major role, along with imagined taste and smell, of course. They wondered whether having people imagine non-food images, like rainbows or rose gardens, could nip cravings in the bud.

As it turns out, these imaginings can lessen the intensity of cravings. Another team has found that they could smother subjects' cravings by having them play Tetris. But the alternative visual process doesn't even need to be engaging. Staring at TV static works too, Kemps says. She and her colleagues are now planning to see whether they can distract people before cravings develop into full-blown mental images, when they are still vaguer desires.

If cravings get out of control ‒ if they are a constant feature of one's day ‒ that can of course play havoc with health, since eating the desired items can mean a pile-up of unnecessary calories. (It might be worth playing a little Tetris at your desk while those muffins are outside.) But if cravings are more intermittent, Kemps has some surprising advice. “It's actually better to let yourself have it,” she says. “The stronger the craving's going to become, then you're going to be fixated on it.”

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The best way to get rid of temptation is to give into it?

Scientists have identified the part of the brain responsible for the sensation of hunger:

Mine might represent 75% of my brain.

Food cravings have little to do with hunger. They're emotional... food represents comfort, plenitude, safety, etc.

Hunger is my main emotion.

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